Preparing Your Car For Winter: How to Avoid Breakdowns in Winter

Parts of your car can suffer and deteriorate in the wet and cold of the winter months. But by following these steps to prepare your car for winter, including tyre checks and topping up coolant, you can help to reduce the risk of breaking down.

Caroline Ramsey Published on 09 October 2018. Last updated on 03 February 2021.
Preparing Your Car For Winter: How to Avoid Breakdowns in Winter

Drivers should give their vehicles some TLC all year round to make sure they run effectively. Performing regular checks and some basic maintenance can help to prevent any issues from occurring that could result in your car breaking down while you’re on the road.

These checks are even more crucial in winter as the wet, cold and sometimes snowy weather can have a particularly damaging effect on your car and its systems. Your car’s battery, coolant, windscreen, lights and tyres are just some of the key areas that would benefit from some extra care and attention during this period.

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Winter car checks: 9 steps to get your car winter ready

If you are concerned about your car experiencing problems and breaking down this winter, then here are some steps that you can take to prepare your car for winter.

1. Check your tyres

You should check your tyres regularly throughout the year, but it’s particularly important in winter when there could be poorer road conditions with potholes and ice. First, do a visual check to make sure your tyres are well maintained and don’t have any cuts or external damage.

Then, make sure the tread depth is sufficient. The legal minimum requirement is 1.6mm, but for increased grip and safety on the roads, especially in wet and wintry conditions, the AA recommends that your tyres have at least 3mm of tread.

To quickly check the tread depth of your tyres, place a 20p coin into a groove. If you can see the outer band of the coin, the depth may be below the legal minimum level.

Cold weather can cause tyre pressure to drop more rapidly, so check that your tyre pressure is at the level recommended by your manufacturer.

If you often drive on wet or icy roads, then you may want to consider changing to winter tyres which can offer better grip in cold conditions than standard tyres.

2. Check coolant levels

The ratio of engine coolant should normally be around 50% water and 50% antifreeze. However, many people forget to top up their coolant with antifreeze during the warmer months, which can seriously dilute the levels of antifreeze over time.

This means that, in cold weather, the radiator fluid could freeze and damage your engine and ultimately cause you to break down.

There are different types of coolant/antifreeze mixes available, so make sure you top up with the one recommended by your car manufacturer otherwise you risk causing more damage. Alternatively, you could take your car to a garage and have it checked there.

3.Top up the windscreen wash

With all the spray and dirt that is likely to land on your windscreen when you drive on wet roads, it’s important your car has plenty of screen wash to clean it away. Make sure you have enough fluid and, if it needs topping up, use screen wash rather than plain water as screen wash should not freeze as easily.

4. Examine your windscreen and wiper blades

Repairing any chips or cracks in your windscreen, even if they seem minor, will help to prevent them from getting any worse as the cold and wet weather sets in.

At the same time, check the condition of your wiper blades and replace them if necessary. If the blades are too worn or have any tears, they could leave smears and streaks on your windscreen which will affect your visibility.

5. Check your lights

You will probably be using your lights a lot more when the days are shorter so it’s a good idea to check that your headlights, rear reflectors and indicators are all working correctly. Make sure that you replace any broken bulbs as soon as possible, as driving without all your lights could be very dangerous for you and other road users.

Also, clean off any dirt that may be covering your lights or your number plate.

6. Check oil levels

Making sure your car has enough oil will help the engine to run smoothly. You can use the dipstick to check that the oil level is between the maximum and minimum marks. If it is low, you can top it up to the right level, but make sure you use the correct type of engine oil for your car (specified in your car manual).

7. Clean your car

In winter your car can get covered in water, mud and grit very quickly, which isn’t good for its paintwork or your visibility when you drive. So, to help keep your car’s exterior in overall good condition, simply wash it regularly.

8. If possible, keep your car in a garage

Keeping your car inside will help to protect it from the elements and temperature changes. If you don’t have a garage, then it may be worth putting a cover over your car to help minimise any potential damage caused by debris or frost.

9. Service your car

Ultimately, one of the best ways to prepare your car for winter driving is to take it for a service. Many garages will offer winter services and they may even offer basic winter checks for free.

The free checks will not be as comprehensive as a paid service, but they will usually check the safety of your tyres, test your battery and lights, and make sure your coolant levels are correct.

The colder weather and poorer driving conditions typically associated with the winter months can create multiple issues for cars, so making these car checks will hopefully reduce the risk of a breakdown.

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Winter driving essentials checklist

When driving in winter it’s also a good idea to keep the following items in your car in case of an emergency or breakdown:

  • Ice scraper.
  • Torch (and batteries).
  • Warm clothes/blanket.
  • High-vis jacket.
  • Shovel (especially if driving in remote areas).
  • Spare bulbs.
  • Jump leads (just make sure you know how to use them properly).

There are other items that are useful to keep in your car all year round, such as a mobile phone and a map.

>> MORE: Essential kit to keep in your car

About the author:

Well-established content creator who specialises in the personal finance industry. More than a decade of working in editorial teams, she offers highly tailored content covering a number of topics. Read more

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